Building The Parthenon

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Building the Parthenon  – 447 BC

Building of the ParthenonThe Parthenon, built entirely of Pentelic marble, is not the most vast of the Greek temples, but its execution is more perfect and it is this which made it the masterpiece of Hellenic art.  A very small detail will show the finish of the work. It is with difficulty and by the assistance of eye and hand that one succeeds in discovering the joints of the tambours forming the colonnade which surrounds the building, so skilfully have these enormous masses been adjusted.  Even in her masons Athens possessed artists.

The interior of the Parthenon contained two halls: the smaller at the back, the opisthodomus, enclosed the public treasure; the larger, or cella, contained the statue of the goddess born without mother from the thought of the master of the gods, and who was as the soul of which the Parthenon was the material casing.  Figures in high relief, about twice life size, adorned the two pediments of the temple.  The frieze, which ran round the cella and opisthodomus at a height of thirteen metres (42 ft., 8 ins.), and to a length of more than one hundred and sixty metres (525 ft.), represented the procession of the great Panathenaea.

The work was finished in 435 B.C.  It is neither the centuries nor the barbarians that have mutilated it.  The Parthenon was still almost intact in 1687, when on the 27th of September Morosini bombarded the citadel.  One of the projectiles, setting fire to the barrels of powder stored in the temple, blew up a part of it; then the Venetian desired that the statues should be taken down from the pediment and he broke them.  Lord Elgin, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, tore down the bas-reliefs of the frieze and the metopes: this was another disaster.  The Ilissus or Cephisus, the Hercules or Theseus, the Charities, “vernal goddesses” called by some the Three Fates, by others Demeter, Core, and Iris are still, though somewhat mutilated, the most precious of our relics of antiquity.  In [1812] some other Englishmen carried off the frieze of the temple of Phigalia (Bassae), built by Ictinus.  All these fragments of masterpieces were sold for hard cash, and it is under the damp and gloomy sky of England that we are reduced to admiring the remains of that which was the imperial mantle which Pericles wrapped about Pallas Athene.  Thus to understand the incomparable magnificence of the Parthenon, we must render back to it in imagination what men have taken away, then place it on its lofty rock, one hundred and fifty six metres (512 ft.) high, whence a magic panorama is unrolled before the eyes, and surround it with the buildings of the Acropolis; the Erechtheum, which exhibited all the graces of art, beside the severe grandeur of the principal temple; the bronze statue of Athene Promachus, “she who fought in the front rank,”  to which the artist gave a colossal height, so that the sailors arriving from the high sea steered by the plume on her helmet and the gold tip of her lance, maris stella; and lower down, at the only place by which the rock was accessible, the wonderful vestibule of the Propylaea and the temple of Victory which formed one of its wings; but, above all, it must be seen wrapped in the blazing light of the eastern sky, compared to which our clearest day is but a twilight.

Excerpt from The Historians’ History of the World Volume 3 by Henry Smith Williams – 1907

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Further Reading and External Links

iTunes U – FREE Video – Ancient Greek History

Visit the Parthenon Sculpture Galleries at the British Museum

Ancient Greece and The Parthenon